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Unit rationale, description and aim

Successful creative practitioners are acutely aware of how the history of art and design both informs and influences real world, contemporary practice. This unit examines the major forms of cultural production in art and design in relation to the changing social, political, and economic contexts from post WWII to the end of the twentieth century. Students are introduced to a broad range of art movements and styles including abstraction, pop art, conceptual art, minimalism, land art, performance and feminist interventions. Shifts in thinking and knowledge that occurred during this period will be explored to better understand changing notions of identity, counter-cultures and the radical movement away from traditional art practices. Critiques of modernity, the idea of freedom, the rise of the civil rights movement in America and postcolonial discourse will be explored as well as emerging concerns around ecology and cultural difference.  There will be an emphasis on Indigenous artists both from Australia and the ‘global south’ whilst also focusing on the shift in the epicentre of the artworld from Europe to America.The aim of this unit is to introduce students to the many notions of postmodernity and the ways in which they have profoundly influenced Western society and creative practices.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Articulate the intellectual foundation of postmodern ideology and its impact on artistic production in both Western art and Indigenous Australian artGC1, GC2, GC3, GC5
LO2Identify the main tenets and stylistic variations of art and design movements of the late twentieth centuryGC1, GC2, GC3
LO3Critically analyse the relationship between the socio-historical and political contexts of the postwar period as well as key shifts in art making practices towards an interdisciplinary focusGC1, GC2, GC3, GC5, GC6
LO4Communicate coherently in a range of critical and/or creative formsGC1, GC2, GC3


Topics may include:

  • The scope of post-1940 visual representation in Western and global contexts, including abstract expressionism, minimalism, conceptual art, land art, feminist interventions, postmodern art/architecture and digital art
  • An examination of the counter-culture and civil rights movements of the 60s and 70s and their ongoing influence
  • Reference to alternative 'histories' drawing upon feminism, and post-colonial theories
  • Discussion of Indigenous cultural narratives
  • The drawing of links between post-modern history and theory and contemporary art practices

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit embraces active learning strategies and is designed to provide students with a knowledge of the academic discipline of art and design history and theory in the later twentieth century. Students will have the opportunity to build their practical skills and discipline knowledge which will be consolidated and extended in the higher level art history and theory units in this course.

A range of learning and teaching strategies are incorporated into this unit, including formal lectures, seminars, group activities and films. The seminar classes are designed to produce interactive learning with discussion on primary and secondary sources that enliven an appreciation of historical events. Formal lectures and seminars will be used to model visual analysis techniques, research skills and communication strategies. Online learning, guided reading, and discussions support the development of research and other skills which fundamentally underpin the creative industries, such as an understanding of the relationship between historical and contemporary practices and the capacity to enhance creative, critical and reflective thinking. This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a pass standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities provided.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit is focused on developing discipline knowledge, industry specific language and critical analysis skills. The unit also engages students as active participants in the learning process, while acknowledging that all learning must involve a complex interplay of active and receptive processes, the constructing of meaning for oneself, and learning with and from others. The assessments have been designed to provide students with a variety of tasks in which they are able to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes. Students will study key areas that are essential for the history of art and design including: visual analysis, the relationship between cultural production and the context in which it is made; and the development of critical thinking, research and academic writing skills. In the first assessment task, students will have the opportunity to evaluate written/visual texts to develop their knowledge of ‘post modernity’ and the key tenets of the movements during the period. The second assessment requires students to build on their developing knowledge of key concepts in art history and to research primary and secondary texts to support an argument in a formal essay. This assessment focuses on the development of critical academic skills that are crucial supports for further study. The visual analysis assessment consolidates fundamental skills in reading visual texts and the identification of key movements in modernism.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Critical Textual Exercise

To allow students to develop awareness of art movements and the historical context from which they emerged.


LO1, LO3

Visual Analysis Task

To allow students to demonstrate the core skills of visual analysis and the identification of key movements in postmodernism.


LO1, LO2

Major Essay

To allow students to demonstrate research skills and a critical approach to the relationship between art making as its socio-historical context whilst developing scholarly writing and referencing skills.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

Representative texts and references

Bishop, C. H. (2005). Installation art: a critical history. Tate.

Collins, J., (2007). Sculpture today. Phaidon.

Doss, E. L. (2002). Twentieth-century American art. Oxford University Press.

Foster, H., Krauss, R. E., Bois, Y.-A., Buchloh, B. H. D., & Joselit, D. (2016). Art since 1900 : modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism (3rd ed.). Thames & Hudson.

Hopkins, D. (2018). After modern art: 1945-2017 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

Howells, R., & Negreiros, J. (2019). Visual culture (3rd ed.). Polity Press.

McLean, I. (2014). Double desire: Transculturation and indigenous contemporary art. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Poli, F., (2008). Postmodern art: From the post-war to today. Collins.

Woods, T. (2009). Beginning postmodernism (2nd ed.). Manchester University Press.

Young, J. (2010). Cultural appropriation and the arts. Wiley-Blackwell.

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